The sprawling culture and technology summit known as South by Southwest takes place in Austin, Texas, every March. It started out as a music festival in 1987.
It still is one, but the madness that this corporate-branded mega-event brings to the streets of Austin, with thousands of acts, including a few dozen from Philadelphia, playing in more than 100 venues, doesn't get under way until next week.
Before that happens, both the SXSW Film Festival - behind Sundance, the most influential annual festival for independent movies in the United States - and SXSW Interactive, the wide-ranging technology conference that first brought Twitter to the attention of the world in 2007, will occupy the Texas capital city.
Both Interactive and Film start up on Friday. The Interactive fest attracts the most registrants of the three gatherings, pulling in more than 32,000 visitors last year, including NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who so memorably made a virtual appearance by Internet hookup from Russia.
This year's speakers and workshops demonstrate Interactive's intent to explore the tech-connected aspects of politics, sports, health care, art, and science, not to mention all aspects of entertainment. (Yes, there is also a SXSW Comedy festival.)
There will be featured sessions with Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), comedian Russell Brand, writer Malcolm Gladwell, actresses Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jessica Alba, former Vice President Al Gore, and wrestler Hulk Hogan. Keynote speeches will be delivered by Google X Lab entrepreneur Astro Teller, satellite-radio inventor Martine Rothblatt, and Museum of Modern Art curator Paola Antonelli.
During SXsports, a conference "convergence" track that debuted last year, former Sixer Charles Barkley will be interviewed by Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch, and Eagles linebacker and former University of Texas Longhorn Emmanuel Acho will be on a panel titled "Compensating College Athletes for Their Likeness."
BioBots, a South Philadelphia start-up founded by recent Penn grads Danny Cabrera and Ricardo Solorzano, sells 3-D printers that help build human tissue. It is one of 48 companies - and one of only eight ventures in the Digital Health and Life Sciences Technologies category - that will compete in what's called the SXSW Accelerator. It's a start-up competition that involves pitching your product to judges in front of a live audience.
Is it like the TV hit Shark Tank? "I don't know," Cabrera said. "I've never seen Shark Tank."
On the film side, Philadelphia-connected movies showing at the fest include Funny Bunny, the Alison Bagnall-directed love-triangle comedy about a anti-child-obesity crusader, an animal-rights activist, and a wealthy Mount Airy trust-funder.
Philadelphia actor David Morse stars in director Craig McNeil's The Boy, about a 9-year-old's growing fascination with death. University of Pennsylvania grads Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon directed Best of Enemies, a documentary and Sundance hit about the series of 1968 television debates between left- and right-wing public intellectuals Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr.
Music films of note include Love and Mercy, a biopic about the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson starring Paul Dano and John Cusack as the troubled genius; We Like It Like That, a documentary about the music known as boogaloo, the 1960s hybrid of American soul and Cuban mambo; and Mavis!, about gospel great Mavis Staples.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the much buzzed-about documentary on the Nirvana front man, directed by Brett Morgen, will show at SXSW and play on HBO in May. Before that, it will be shown by the Philadelphia Film Society at the Roxy Theater in Center City on April 30, PFS executive director Andrew Greenblatt says.
Greenblatt and PFS director Michael Lerner will be on the ground in Austin scouting films for possible showing at the Roxy, in the fall at the Philadelphia Film Festival, or at the Film Society's newly acquired Prince Music Theater on Chestnut Street.
Greenblatt has been a regular SXSW attendee since 2008. His goal is to catch as many as six movies a day at the fest, whose principal venues include Alamo Drafthouse theaters, which serve food to moviegoers "so you don't have to waste time taking lunch and dinner breaks."
Along with locally connected films, Greenblatt said, he had his eye on, among many others, Bob Byington's 7 Chinese Brothers, starring Jason Schwartzman; J. Davis' directorial debut, Manson Family Vacation; Turbo Kid, a postapocalyptic Canada-New Zealand production about a comic book-obsessed scavenger with a jet pack; and He Never Died, starring Henry Rollins, which is Jason Krawczyk's film about a depressed cannibal with a conscience.